It was just after three in the afternoon. Chris, Vin, Josiah, Nathan and Ezra had been home to shower, change and try to rest. They were just now arriving back at the hospital. Buck, as expected, had never left J.D.'s side.
Ellen had left a message on Chris's cellphone that she wanted the Team to return to the hospital, but she hadn't said whether J.D. was awake or not yet. This bothered him as he telephoned the rest of the team to advise them.
Chris had been in touch with AD Travis again and was told that Team 8 would be covering their most urgent cases for the time being. Chris had called Ryan Kelly, his opposite on Team 8, to bring him up-to-date. Teams 7 and 8 had worked together many times and camaraderie between the two teams was strong. Kelly was more interested in how J.D. was and how Buck was holding up, rather than the cases that needed covering.
Chris arrived at the hospital in time to run into the Vin and Ezra in the parking lot. All three men still look tired but better for the shower, shave and change of clothing.
They entered the hospital and rode up the elevator together.
"I sincerely hope Mr. Dunne is much improved if for no other reason than perhaps he can convince Mr. Wilmington to turn his attention to personal hygiene." Said Ezra.
"I could order him to go home and shower," suggested Chris.
"I suspect it would take significantly more persuasion than an order to convince him to leave Mr. Dunne's side."
"That bein' the case Ez, the other five of us are carryin' guns," suggested Vin in mock seriousness.
"It is an alternative worth considering Mr. Tanner," came Ezra's deadpan response.
+ + + + + + +
Something was wrong. Buck was out in the hall, even down the length of the hallway you could see by his body language something was very wrong.
Nathan and Josiah were conferring with Phil Winton. Ellen was trying to talk Buck separately. Buck was making it difficult for her by pacing back and forth in front of her; never once stopping to face her while she spoke to him.
As the three men approached they could hear the conversation between Ellen and Buck.
"He's comatose," explained Ellen.
"He's in a coma?"
"No, he's in a deep sleep like a coma."
"When's he gonna wake up?"
"I don't know," replied Ellen.
"What the hell's going on?" demanded Chris as he, Vin and Ezra approached the group.
"J.D.'s worse, he won't wake up, they said he's gone into a coma," exclaimed Buck.
When I checked about an hour ago, I discovered J.D. had become comatose," began
Dr. Winton, "not that he had gone into a coma."
"What's the difference," asked Chris.
"In coma a person has little or no awareness of their surroundings. J.D. is comatose, coma-like, he's in a very deep sleep if you will, but he does have some sense of what's going on around him," explained Winton.
"What does that mean?" asked Vin.
"I won't lie to you, we don't know but it's not a good sign," admitted Ellen.
"The kid's too young to... I can't lose... ," Buck stopped unable to voice his worst fears. The long night, the lack of sleep and the stress of the non-stop vigil were getting to be too much for Buck. Chris suddenly realized he'd have a second man hospitalized at this rate.
"Buck, J.D.'s body is only doing what it thinks is best to heal itself, we're along way from losing him just yet," said Ellen with an underlying fierceness in her voice.
"Is there anything we do now to help him?" asked Nathan.
"He is aware of what's going on around him. In cases like this family support has a tremendously positive effect, stay with him, talk to him, and reassure him. Let him know he's not alone in this."
The six men looked doubtfully at one another.
"I know it doesn't seem like much," said Ellen "but I firmly believe it will make a big difference to J.D."
"We'll do it Ellen," assured Josiah, "and add little prayer for good measure."
"I know you all want to be with him now but too many people at once might be distressing for him, I think just one of you at a time in his room. And for your own sakes, please don't all of you spend the next few days camped out in the waiting room. Take turns staying with him, go to the office, go to the gym, try to keep busy, it will be less stressful for all of you. J.D.'s condition is serious but, he is in no immediate danger and I promise I'll contact you all at once should there be a need."
"You cannot force us to leave." Said Ezra defensively.
"No I can't force you and I wouldn't try." Looking up at Ezra he could see sympathy in her eyes. "I'm only suggesting it to help make the waiting easier."
"We will take your recommendations under consideration Doctor," said Ezra quietly, feeling a little ashamed of his petulance.
"That's all I ask. I must go, I'll leave instructions to have J.D. closely monitored through the night." She turned and left. Chris walked quickly down the hall after her. "Ellen!" He put hand on her shoulder to stop her and she turned to face him.
"Ellen, don't avoid me, what are J.D.'s chances?"
"Chris I don't know," admitted Ellen, shaking her head, "I'm really baffled by this latest development, but I'm more convinced that ever this has an emotional rather than a physical cause. Give me some time. Let me talk to your men one at a time, maybe one of them knows something. Often the key is right there in front of a family member but they're just too close to see it." Looking up at him, she could see an old familiar fear in his eyes. Looking down at her, he could see a fierce determination in her eyes. "Chris, I promise you Ill fight like hell to bring him back to you all."
"I know you will."
"Carlie, I need you to do some digging for me. I'm looking for information on the patient John Dunne. Start with medical records here in Denver. He moved here from Boston about a year ago so youll have to do some checking back in Boston. Get me everything you can. I don't care how trivial it may seem, I want to see it. Have copies e-mailed or faxed to me."
"I'll send out the e-mail inquiries before I leave tonight Doctor. I'll follow up with the Massachusetts State Medical Records department first thing tomorrow morning."
"Thank you Carlie, I really appreciate this."
"Josh phoned and asked you pick him up at his friend Erik's house on your way home."
"Thanks again, Good night Carlie."
"Good night, Doctor."
Ellen went into her office and closed the door behind her. She took off her lab coat and hung it on the hook on the back of the door. She made her way over to her desk and picked up the neat pile of telephone messages Carlie had left. After sifting through them, she tossed them back down on her desk. What is it J.D.? What is going on with you? You've got a family out there that anyone would be envious of. What devil is chasing you that you couldn't tell any of these men about it?
Early Thursday Morning
"No, don't get up," she said as she entered the room.
She moved quietly over to stand beside J.D. on the opposite side of bed from where Josiah sat. He had been reading Robert Louis Stevenson's "Kidnapped" aloud, in his quiet baritone voice.
The quality of his voice all on its own is so reassuring thought Ellen.
She gently moved the covers and the loose fitting gown aside to check the bandages.
"How's he doing Ellen?" asked Josiah in his gentle baritone.
"There's no fever, vitals look good. I'm please with how well he's recovering from the surgery." Now if we could only figure out why he won't wake up... she thought to herself.
"I have faith that in time everything will work out for J.D." Said Josiah as if reading her thoughts.
"I hope you're right. Where's Buck?" she asked a little surprised not to find him in the room.
"I persuaded him to take a break, stretch his legs and go get some breakfast while I stayed with J.D."
"I pulled rank."
"That's all it took?" she asked, raising her eyebrows with the question.
"That's my story and I'm sticking to it," he said with a sideways glance and a wink.
"Okay," she said chuckling.
He looked across the bed at her.
"Are you the same Josiah Sanchez who wrote the book "The Enduring Spirit"?
"One in the same" he replied. "You know of my book then?"
"I got a copy as a gift from a friend at a time when life seemed particularly overwhelming. It brought me a lot of comfort and helped me gain some perspective back into my life. I've read a number of the poems and essays in it. They seem to talk to the soul."
"I'm glad." The book was intended primarily for religious and spiritual counselors and their clients. It wasn't widely distributed to the general public. You must be the person Chris wanted the copy for, he thought to himself.
"You know Ellen, you have quite a talent, not only as a surgeon but also in the understanding you've shown and care and support you've given us, as J.D.'s surrogate family."
Understanding born of first hand personal experience, I'm afraid, she thought. "I'm glad I could help make this situation a little easier. It is the most helpless feeling in the world to sit by and wait when someone you love is seriously hurt."
"You sound like you've had some personal experience at this," said Josiah giving Ellen an opening to talk more about herself.
Ellen paused and looked at Josiah thoughtfully for a moment before replying. "I gather you've had a chance to ask Buck about me?"
"We all have." Josiah leaned forward in his chair to look Ellen straight in the eye. His expression was gentle. "Please don't take offense but you have to remember Ellen, as well as family, we're all investigators and you were a mystery to the rest of us. In our business you become conditioned to consider a mystery as a possible threat."
"I'm not offended." Buck didn't know everything about the last eight years of her life but what he did know these four strangers now knew and that would take some getting used to. It had been eight difficult, painful years. Life had become better and living had become easier with each passing day but even so not everything had been resolved.
"J.D. must be quite a young man from the devotion the six of you have shown." Said Ellen, diverting attention back to her patient.
"John Dunne is quite a young man indeed. Life wasn't easy for him before he joined us. He grew up an only child of a single mother in tough social and economic circumstances. His mother was sick for some time before she died a couple of years ago. The loss is still painful for him. Despite the hardships he has a passionate love for life. Up until recently anyway, he couldn't seem to wait to start each day. He's enthusiastic about his work and he loves being a part of the team. In the year he's been with us the team has become his family and he loves every man on it as only a younger brother can love his older brothers, faults and all."
"It's hard to believe he's been through so much, right now he looks more like an angelic six year old after a hard day of playing."
Chuckling Josiah continued "Oh, I very much doubt he's been an angel all his life. He carries very few illusions about life. I suspect he's had to take on a lot of responsibility at a young age, suffered a number of disappointments and had to make some hard choices along the way."
"It's a wonder he survived emotionally long enough to find a home with all of you."
"J.D. has great faith in what he thinks is right and the courage to follow through on it, a gift passed on to him by his mother I suspect. Some people mistake it for innocence or naiveté, but I believe that faith has sustained him through the difficult times in his life."
"Does his faith extend to himself?"
"No, I'm afraid not," replied Josiah with a sigh, "I've noticed that J.D. seems to feel that he is less worthy of us than we are of him, when likely the reverse is more accurate. Everyday he works to re-earn his place with us on the job and in our family. He doesn't seem to realize he has both our respect and our love without question."
"Considering where he's come from and how hard he would have had to work to get here that seems a little odd," commented Ellen.
"I would agree," replied Josiah lowering his eyes to J.D.'s young face. "The team would be devastated if we were to lose him."
"We'll have to make sure that doesn't happen Josiah." Said Ellen quietly.
+ + + + + + +
Ellen returned to J.D.'s room mid-morning expecting to see Buck. Instead she found Nathan taking J.D.'s vital signs.
"Hello Nathan, how's your patient?"
"Fine doctor, I mean, I just wanted to check..."
"Nathan I'm only teasing. I'm sorry I didn't mean to make you self-conscious. Seriously, how are his vitals?"
"BP and heart rate are normal so he's not under any stress at the moment. Temperature is normal so it is not likely there's any infection. The surrounding tissue from the wound and surgery looks healthy and there's minimal bruising." Replied Nathan in a professional manner.
"What would you conclude," asked Ellen.
"Physically he's doing well."
"Agreed." Ellen sat down in the chair beside J.D.
"Not that I not happy to see you Nathan but where's Buck, I expected him to be here?"
"Sergeant Delfino, the investigating officer from the shooting, was by to ask Buck some questions for his report. With all that's happened to J.D., Buck had forgotten about the perp, who, according to Delfino, is going to be fine. Buck's gone with Delfino to the third floor to visit him."
"Does Officer Delfino have any idea why he robbed the drug store?"
"He did it on a dare. Buck said that when the perp exited the store, he seemed to be looking for something in the parking lot. His buddies who dared him took off on him. He only fired the shots to scare the people in the store. Buck had no way of knowing that at the time."
"A dare', said Ellen ruefully, shaking her head, "what a price for a dare."
After a brief pause Ellen asked, "Why were you were at the EMT workshop at Briarly?"
"I originally trained as an EMT when I got out of the army. I was a medic in the army and I thought that maybe that's what I'd like to do with my life."
"How did you end with Team Seven then," inquired Ellen.
"I started college courses part-time and then full-time while working the EMT spare board, one thing lead to another and I got my degree in Chemistry with a minor in criminology. Chris interviewed me for the Team right out of the ATF program and here I am. I try to keep up-to-date as best I can, taking workshops and re-qualification courses in between ATF operations. My skills seem to come in handy, especially with this bunch." Nathan finished with a grin.
Ellen chuckled, "Somehow I'm not surprised. That's a pretty ambitious schedule you've set for yourself, those are heavy courses for full time ATF agent."
"It's going to slow down some now," said Nathan.
"Why is that?" asked Ellen.
"Requirements have become stricter due to budget cuts. Only current EMT's will now be eligible for the workshops and re-qualification courses." Nathan Explained. "I hate letting my skills become obsolete but I have no choice."
"Do you have any alternatives?"
"The only exceptions that I know of are EMT's who are personally sponsored by a doctor who's on staff at a hospital participating in the EMT program."
"If you're interested in continuing your training, I'll sponsor you."
"Pardon me?" asked Nathan taken by surprise at the offer.
"I'll sponsor you," she repeated. "I understand you were the first medical person on scene, according to the attending EMT's and Phil Winton your emergency care was excellent, so you seem to know your stuff. Your observations just now were keen and accurate and most importantly it seems to me you would likely be in a number of situations where your skills would be needed."
"Well, thank you Doct... Ellen."
"I'll ask Carlie to check into the details of the requirements and what paper work is required. Is that alright with you?"
"Yeah, fine, ah great! Thank you."
"Don't thank me yet, let's check into it first. In the meantime what can you tell me about J.D.? What's he like? He's my patient but I don't know him personally."
"The boy is normally a bundle of energy, perpetual motion and endless questions, a sponge for knowledge. It's really unusual for him not to be bugging one of us or horsing around with Buck. His mind is amazing, we joke in the office that he can multi-plex, do more that one thing at once and do everything he's doing at once well. He can be typing up a report on one thing, while asking questions on another subject entirely and calculating monthly stats all at the same time. His mind is very quick. His computer skills are beyond anyone's I've ever met. He leaves the rest of us in his microchip dust."
"And how has J.D. been lately?"
"He's been pretty quiet for more that 2 weeks now. I asked him every couple of days how he was feeling, he always said he was fine. He always looked fine but the change in behaviour... all of us noticed it. I made up reasons to work closely with him just see if he had a fever. He caught on to that pretty quick."
"What did he do when he caught on to you?"
"Just told me he was fine and to mind my own business."
"Was there anything unusual in that?"
"No, but it was the way he did it real quiet and serious like, not with the usual I'm-big-enough-to-take-care-of-myself J.D. bravado. Does any of this help?"
Just After Noon Thursday
"Buck, I brought you a cup of coffee. You look like you could use one."
"You're an angel of mercy Ellen, and pretty too. Thanks," taking the cup in both hands and settling stiffly back into his chair. He watched a moment while she took J.D.'s pulse, listened to his heart, and checked his pupils.
"How's he doing?" asked Buck as he watched her check the print outs from the monitors.
"No change." She replied as she brushed the too long bangs once again back from his eyes.
"You two are pretty close aren't you Buck?"
"Yup, and up until now I thought real close. Close enough that he could tell me anything. I asked him straight out after the game Tuesday night what was wrong. He put me off said he had to work this one out himself. You're supposed to do that aren't you? Let your kids work things out for themselves and just be there if you're needed, Right?"
"Don't beat yourself up over it Buck, I wouldn't have done any different myself."
There was a long pause as the two people kept to their own thoughts while they watched J.D. breathe. Buck set his coffee down on the side table and leaned forward to take J.D.'s hand in his once again.
"God he looks young Buck," she said quietly.
"Don't let his looks fool you. Id never tell the kid this but he's one sharp ATF agent already and it's only been a year, he'll be better agent than all of us put together in no time." Buck smiled.
"You sound like a proud papa Buck." She said with a smile.
Unbelievably, Buck smiled shyly and blushed at her comment. "Yeah, I'm pretty proud of him all right," admitted Buck.
"It's none of my business and but how come you and Chris never got together?"
A hint of a smile crept onto Ellen's lips as she raised her eyebrows "Having the violent deaths of your spouse and child in common is not exactly an ideal basis for a relationship. Besides, we were more valuable to each other as friends."
Buck cocked his head questioningly to one side.
She sat down in the chair beside Buck's, allowing herself to relax for a moment. Buck leaned back in his chair and picked up his cup of coffee again settling in to listen.
"We share a common experience that not many other people understand. I'd been to the support group a couple of times before Chris came. They were good, well-intentioned people but they had lost someone to a violent crime through no fault of their own. Chris and I, our situations were different. We were the cause of our loved ones deaths."
Buck opened his mouth to object. Ellen reached over and put her hand on his arm to stop him.
"No, wait, listen. Chris and I are responsible for the deaths of our families, indirectly maybe but still responsible, because of something we did or failed to do someone decided to killed our families to get back at us." There were tears in her eyes but she wasn't finished. "Those people in the support group were good people too and their personal losses are truly tragic but it just isn't the same. Those evening talks over coffee did more for me than anyone can ever know, except maybe Chris. He understood like no one else had before and despite his hurting, he'd listen, and I listened to him and I could understand how he felt. I only hope it helped him half as much as it helped me."
After a short pause Buck spoke. "I know those talks you two had helped him, those were the only mornings after that he didn't looked like he'd spent all night in a bottle."
"It wasn't easy for him, sharing his feelings is not part of how he's made up and I will love him for that forever. I'll always be here for him and I hope he'll be here for me too but our relationship couldn't become romantic or sexual, it would have taken away what it was that we needed each other for."
Buck paused for a long moment this time and then picked up the hand still on his arm and kissed it and then held it to his chest. "He's lucky to have had you there for him," he whispered.
"And he's lucky to have had you too Buck. He never would have made it through that first year or would have come out to that meeting the first time if it hadn't been for you," Ellen replied in a quiet voice.
Taking back her hand, Ellen continued in a normal tone of voice. "Besides Chris should have the joy of being a father again, and this Mary Travis he talks about, or should I say doesn't talk about," she said with a twinkle in her eye, "seems to have caught his attention."
"I guess you could say that," grinned Buck, "and she's more than a match for him, like Sarah was, only I'm not sure he knows it yet".
"What about you Buck, you ever think about a family?" Ellen asked attempting to lighten the mood.
"Lord knows I love kids, but my own? Hell, I find this one hard enough to manage and he's almost full-grown." Buck replied with soft laughter.
"How about you Ellen? You ever think about having more children?"
"Once or twice Buck, but now I'm over forty now, with no candidates for a father in sight. Unless of course you're volunteering?" she teased.
"Well now that I know my boss is out of the way, I just might consider it" replied Buck grinning back at her.
She smiled back and after a moment of comfortable silence Buck yawned and shook his head. "Man I'm suddenly real sleepy."
"Why don't you lie down on the other bed and catch forty winks? I promise I'll wake you if there's any change with J.D."
"All right," standing up and moving over to lie down on the empty bed. "I just need a little nap is all..."
She looked down at the big man, who was already gently snoring. I'm sorry my friend but you needed to get some sleep, she said to herself.
+ + + + + + +
When Ellen returned to her desk late that afternoon, she noted a number of new e-mails. The information Carlie had requested had started to come in. What had once taken a week to get by fax machine was now a click of a mouse away. Just about everything was computerized now.
Ellen scanned the reports while sipping her tea. There was nothing unusual in them. The usual immunization and standard childhood diseases, standard physical assessments with Boston PD. Visits to Emerg seemed to have risen dramatically since coming to Denver. Ellen would have to speak to Chris and Buck about those.
There were half a dozen sheets on the fax machine. Ellen scooped them off the machine and gave them a quick glance. One in particular, was a copy of a report done by hand of a visit to a free clinic when J.D. had the chicken pox in 1985. There was an inconsistency that caught Ellen's attention. She had volunteered in such clinics in the early days of her career. The clinics were often overcrowded, organized mayhem, with staff that was over-worked and under-appreciated. This could just be a mistake easily made by a receptionist striving to get through the mountains of required paper work. She'd check it out anyway.